Back to Basics, and Beyond! Three classic doughs, nine amazing cookies.
by Matthew M.F. Miller
Since the holidays come but once a year, the cookie staples of the season leave little to the imagination and a lot to tradition. Chewy gingerbread, shortbread and jam-filled thumbprints are iconic bakes, and most bakers (and eaters!) have a preferred, tried-and-true recipe that evokes not only the taste of the holidays, but also memories of years past. After all, cookies are so much more than dessert. They are saccharine time machines that send you back to childhood one bite at a time.
Social media, however, has changed the game. Videos, pins and blog posts abound with innovative twists on holiday classics. There are so many options and too little baking time to try every recipe that whets the appetite, especially when you’re already committed to the basic three (or four for sugar cookie lovers!).
Here, I offer my favorite recipes for the classics along with two variations for each. Each variation uses the same base dough as the standard version, which means you can make one big batch with three very different cookie outcomes. It’s a simple way to try something new without disappointing your loved ones that cling to tradition.
‘tis the season to bake, eat and be merry.
Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 large eggs
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. grated orange zest
½ tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup granulated sugar for rolling
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Add molasses and mix until combined. Add one egg at time, mixing until fully incorporated after each. In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients and stir to combine. Slowly add dry ingredients to the wet and mix until combined. Add orange zest and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Roll rounded tablespoons of dough into a ball and then roll in sugar. Bake on a parchment paper lined baking sheet for 10 minutes.
Variation #1: Chocolate-Cherry Stuffed Gingerbread
Butter a cupcake pan. Drop a rounded tablespoon of dough into the bottom of each cupcake tin and lightly press into the bottom and sides of the pan, forming a ½-inch crust up the sides to create a well. Place 1 tablespoon of mini chocolate chips and 1 chopped Bing cherry in the middle. Flatten out a rounded tablespoon of the dough and place over the top. Bake at 375 degrees F for 16-18 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar when cool.
Variation #2: Gingerbread Lemon Mascarpone Cream Sandwiches
Add ½ cup flour to the original recipe. Lightly flour work surface and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out shapes with your preferred cookie cutter and bake at 375 degrees F for 7-8 minutes. For cream, mix one 8-ounce container of mascarpone cheese with the zest of a large lemon, 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice, and ½ cup powdered sugar. Stir until combined. Once the cookies are cool, spread the cream on the bottom side of one cookie and top with a second cookie.
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. powdered sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter, sugar and powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Add flour and salt and mix until combined. Add vanilla and mix until combined. Using a rolling pin, roll out shortbread to 1-inch thickness. Cut into desired shape (I like 3-inch rectangles).
Bake 12-15 minutes.
Variation #1: Cranberry Coconut Bliss Shortbread
Roll out shortbread dough into a 1-inch thick rectangle. Cut into triangles. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Dip into melted white chocolate and sprinkle with coconut shreds, cranberries and white chocolate chips.
Variation #2: Pecan Pie Shortbread Cookies
Scoop out 2 Tablespoons of shortbread dough and form into 4-inch piecrust shapes, building up the sides to hold in filling. Press down on the tops of the crusts with tines of a fork for decoration. For the pecan pie filling, stir together 2 eggs, 2/3 cup corn syrup, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 Tablespoon melted butter and ½ teaspoon vanilla. Fill each cookie to the brim with pecan pie filling. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes.
Blackberry Jam Thumbprints
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c. sugar
2 eggs, separated
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
½ c. toasted almonds, pulverized in a food processor
1 c. blackberry jam
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Add egg yolks one at a time and mix until fully incorporated. Add flour and salt and mix until incorporated. Add vanilla and mix until incorporated. Roll 1 heaping Tablespoon of dough into a ball. Roll the cookie ball in the lightly whisked egg whites and then roll in almonds crumbs. Bake at 300 degrees F for 8 minutes. Remove from oven, push thumb into each cookie, fill with blackberry jam and bake for 12-14 minutes more.
Variation #1: Cookie Butter Thumbprints
Roll 1 heaping Tablespoon of dough into a ball. Roll the cookie ball in the lightly whisked egg whites and then roll in finely pulverized Biscoff cookie crumbs. Bake at 300 degrees F for 8 minutes. Remove from oven, push thumb into each cookie, fill with cookie butter and bake for 12-14 minutes more.
Variation #2: Orange Chocolate Cheesecake Thumbprints
Add 1 Tbsp. orange zest to dough thumbprint dough. Roll 1 heaping Tablespoon of dough into a ball. Roll the cookie ball in the lightly whisked egg whites and then roll in sugar. Bake at 300 degrees F for 8 minutes. While cookies are baking, mix 8 ounces of cream cheese with 1/3 cup powdered sugar, 1 egg yolk, and 1 Tablespoon of hot fudge sauce at room temperature. Mix until fully incorporated. Remove cookies from oven, push thumb into each cookie, fill with cheesecake batter, top with orange zest and bake for 12-14 minutes more.